I’d like to think you don’t have to be a child to appreciate the effectiveness of metaphors; everyone from poets to advertisers to corporate speakers uses them.
A certain now-famous blogger* was at a diner with a friend, who asked what it was like to suffer from her chronic health condition. She grabbed as many spoons as she could find– they were available and abundant– and birthed what became a widespread awareness campaign. “Spoon Theory” rapidly spread via t-shirts, magnets, key chains, jewelry, etc. Finally, invisible illness had a tangible symbol making public awareness a reality.
Then a virtual mob of fellow chronic illness sufferers crapped all over it. The reason for their annoyance is not without merit; many people relate better to different metaphor– batteries in this particular instance. I take issue with the ferocity of their criticism, especially those offended by the beneficial efforts of one outspoken individual.
First, notice that it’s called a theory rather than a universal law. Second, give the original spoonie a bit of credit for thinking of it in the first place. Third and fourth, consider when she invented it: both the moment it popped into her head (no advance planning) and the era in which she published it: 2003. (Forget twitter or Pinterest, let alone facebook; Myspace hadn’t even launched yet!)
The problem with any illness metaphor is not that it’s it’s adequate, which it is; ALL metaphors are inherently flawed because they’re a comparison between two things that are not identical. You may relate more to a lawn mower, a ball point pen, or a rutabaga. Regardless: at some point you have to concede it’s impossible for someone outside your experience to know EXACTLY what you’re going through.
Before we forget that we’re all in this together, please keep in mind how often those of us with chronic invisible illnesses are judged, mocked, questioned and ignored. It does not help our already contentious cause to divide into factions. We’re are all fighting for the same things: acknowledgment, respect, support and research.
*permission to publish/ link to the original blog post must be granted by the author